UHHRU Open Letter: On proposals to reinstate the death penalty in Ukraine

19 April 2008

Calls have become more frequent in recent times to reinstate the death penalty in Ukraine. The issue has become the subject of discussion on various television shows. The communist faction tabled a draft law in the Verkhovna Rada to reintroduce capital punishment into the Criminal Code. The bill was thrown out in its first reading, with a mere 49 National Deputies of the 447 registered voting in favour.

On 15 April Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Lutsenko during a meeting with journalists* stated that he was personally in favour of reinstating the death penalty by firing squad for particularly grave crimes against the individual.  On that very day, Amnesty International had published their report on death sentences and executions in 2007.  The report had been welcomed by the Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis: "the work of Amnesty International, which has been mobilising public opinion and keeping up the pressure on politicians, has contributed greatly to the decision by the governments of the Council of Europe member states to transform Europe into a death penalty-free zone".  Mr Davis stressed that the abolition of the death penalty was part of the real commitment to human dignity and human rights.

Unfortunately the Minister of Internal Affairs, who is a civilian and declares his commitment to democratic values, in this case effectively demonstrated his support for something quite opposite – the idea of revenge. Such statements are absolute incompatible with Ukraine‘s declared European choice.

The death penalty which is legalized murder has no deterrent effect. Numerous studies have proven that the number of murders does not depend on whether the death penalty could be applied. This is seen also in Ukraine where the number of murders over the last eleven years since executions were stopped has not increased with the figure remaining around 200 a year. At the same time, the likelihood of judicial error in our criminal investigations of crimes remains fairly high. One recent case involving Tkachuk who stands accused of carrying out serial killings should be convincing enough. It would appear that 9 (!) innocent people were convicted of the crimes which Tkachuk is charged with.  Had the death penalty been in force, these people could have been executed, and the mistake would already be impossible to rectify.

Only parliament can reinstate the death penalty, however in our view, this is at the present time impossible. The Judgment from the Constitutional Court No. 1.1rn from 29.12.1999, concluding that the death penalty does not comply with Ukraine‘s Constitution, is unequivocal and final. Abolition of the laws ratifying the 8th and 13th Protocols to the European Convention on Human Rights which bans the death penalty in all circumstances,  even in times of war, would be a real disgrace for Ukraine. The country’s public officials must comply with the Constitution and laws of Ukraine and not seek to revise them, not even when expressing their views in public.

We call on Yury Lutsenko to reject the flawed idea of restoring the death penalty.

Yevhen Zakharov

Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union

*  One of the journalists present asked a question about the death penalty and Mr Lutsekno replied: "I am in favour of reinstatement of the highest degree of punishment in the form of execution by firing squad for particularly grave crimes against a person."

He did also say (presumably in response to a question)  that he was against the death penalty being applied against corrupt officials (the meeting prior to the journalists’ questions had been on fighting corruption).

Given some of the erroneous news reports, it should be stressed that this is all that the Minister said.

**  Tkachuk has confessed to all the crimes, though the court has not yet passed sentence

More can be read about the recent communist attempt at reinstating the death penalty here:

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